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Heart Of A Hunter
By Sylvie Kurtz
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe hunter had returned. Decompressing, he called the time he needed alone after coming home from an assignment. But Olivia knew it went deeper. He was trying to shake off the mind-set of the man he'd hunted for the past month. He'd told her once it was like spending time in a sewer and he didn't want to poison her with the stench.
Was it wrong of her to want him to share his world?
She descended the stone stairs that led to the basement of their mountaintop home and the room she referred to as Sebastian's "cave." She'd called it so affectionately at first. Now there was a trace of resentment that left a bitter taste at the back of her throat. At the door she hesitated.
Bent over his paperwork, he was surrounded by all sorts of electronic gadgets that could have come from a science fiction movie set. His mind was focused, laser-sharp on his task. The lean muscles of his tracker's body were controlled. She'd seen this stance often enough to recognize he was detaching himself from one world and trying to reconnect with another. Why did that passage make her so sad?
She'd lived with him for ten years. She knew everything about him. The way he brushed his teeth. The way he peppered his corn. The way he checked the oil in her car before he left on assignment. But she didn't know his heart. After all these years, he still kept it to himself, its contents as secret as his operations.
He loved her. She had no doubt about that. But she wanted it all - the bad and the good. Not just the castle in the air he'd provided for her. To keep her safe, he'd said. But here in the rarified air she didn't know what she was capable of. And the longing for flight - for something more - grew every day. Especially when he was gone, and she was left alone with her thoughts.
Her heart - always so open - had lately closed a little. She found herself keeping things from him - thoughts she knew would upset him, musings he would take the wrong way, feelings he wouldn't understand. She didn't like that extra barrier between them, didn't like the way they were growing apart. Her fault. Sebastian hadn't changed. He was the same driven man she'd met at one of her father's business functions eleven years ago. She was the one with the curl of anxiety gnawing at her.
She loved him. She always would. Just watching him and all his intense self-assurance made her soul sing like nothing else could. But where was the answering melody? She'd signed on for a duet and lately had become aware she was singing a solo.
He looked up from his work and smiled. The brightness of it caught her breath just as it had the first time. One touch. That was all it would take to evaporate her resolve. She slid her gaze from his. If she looked into his eyes, she would stay and she needed to go.
"I'm almost done," he said, turning back to his work.
She hugged herself and leaned against the door frame.
"Take your time. I just wanted to say good-night."
He glanced at his watch and frowned. "So early?"
"I'm leaving, Sebastian." The hard thud of her heart nearly drowned out her words.
"Leaving? I don't understand."
No, he wouldn't. He could see through the eyes of evil, but the working of his own wife's mind was alien. "I'm going to my sister's for a while." As much as Paula wanted her to leave Sebastian, she would not approve of her plan, either.
"I just got home."
"I know. I waited for you." And that, she realized, had been a mistake. She should have taken the coward's way out and left while he was gone. "I didn't want you coming home to a note."
After all the years they'd shared, she'd owed him that much. She'd thought hearing of her departure from her would hurt less than words scribbled on paper. She hadn't counted on seeing the ridges of fatigue drooping the corners of his eyes and bracketing his mouth. She hadn't known the pain in his eyes would arrow straight to her gut. And in the past month, she'd talked herself out of the power of his magnetism.
"I've missed you," he said. "Can't this wait?"
"No, I ..." She knitted her fingers and breathed in courage. "I need to get away for a bit." She needed to prove to him she could fit in his world, and she thought the course in criminal justice at the community college in Nashua would give her a start - a point from which to connect. But if she told him, he would talk her out of it. Where would that leave them? Right where they were, and she couldn't go on like this.
He closed his eyes and blew out a huff of frustration. "Olivia, I'm tired. Can't we talk this over in the morning?"
By morning, she'd have melted into him and it would be too late. "No, I need to do this."
He went predator-still. Never a good sign. "This isn't just a vacation." His dark gaze bored into her, making her feel caught in a trap. Was that how his prey felt when he closed in on them? "You're leaving me."
She shifted to the outside of the door frame. "I'm not leaving you." How could she explain? How could she make him understand? "I'm going to myself, not away from you."
"That doesn't make sense." He gave her a puzzled look and rose from his black ergonomic office chair. He took one slow step. She had to hurry while she still could.
Looking down at her hands so primly knotted in front of her, she licked her dry lips and focused on her goal. Everything else she'd tried to dissolve the barrier between them had failed. "You're a contained man, Sebastian, and I need to spill over. For a little while. Until I figure out where you end and where I start."
"I don't understand." The pain slashing his features twisted inside her. He took another step forward. Though she wanted to flee, she held her ground.
"I've known you since I was seventeen. We were married when I was eighteen. You have five years on me. You knew what you wanted out of life. This." She arched her arm to encompass not only the room, but all of the house.
"You. It's all I've known for the past ten years."
"I thought you loved the house." Another step. She stiffened.
"I do." She'd helped design it herself. The way the light played with the shadows, the way it fit snugly into the rocky New Hampshire landscape as if it belonged, the way each room was a restful den, made it a home, not merely a house. "It's not the house."
"The village then." His gun hand flexed. He wouldn't let her go. "You feel isolated."
"No, it's not Wintergreen." How could she resent a place where everyone knew her and treated her like a friend? If she wanted a taste of the city, Keene, Nashua, Manchester weren't that far. Even Boston was only a few hours away. She straightened against the stone wall and hugged herself tighter.
He stopped, let his head drop to his chest, then blazed her with a look of such sadness she nearly closed the distance between them to comfort him. "I'm sorry I can't give you the baby you want."
That was a tiny bit closer to the truth. Without that common goal, the wall between them seemed to get thicker. But a baby wouldn't fix the hollowness growing inside her. Until Sebastian trusted her with all of himself, a baby would only complicate the situation. "It's not the baby."
Excerpted from Heart Of A Hunter by Sylvie Kurtz Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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